Category Archives: Rare Books

New Audubon Birds on Display

We’ve just turned the pages of our double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

This month, stop by the RBMSCL’s reading room (103 Perkins) during open hours to view these new prints:

Red-headed Woodpecker (Picus erythrocephalus)
Hooping Crane (Grus americana; at left)
Rough-legged Falcon (Buteo lagopus)
Blue Jay (Corvus cristatus)

Visit this earlier blog post for a brief explanation of the monthly page turning.

New Audubon Pages on Display

Stacks Manager Josh Larkin-Rowley and Duke Law student Amanda Pooler examine Audubon's Raven.

Every month, RBMSCL staff members turn the pages of the four volume double elephant folio set of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. This keeps the rare volumes from developing “preferential openings”—tendencies to open to one particular page that often result when books are on display for long periods of time.

Duke Law student Amanda Pooler, making her first visit to the Rare Book Room, helped select the new openings. She chose the Brown Pelican (Pelicanus Fuscus), the state bird of her native Louisiana, as well as the Raven (Corvus Corax); the Carolina Parrot (Psittacus Carolinensis); and the Kittiwake Gull (Larus Tridactylus).

Stop by the RBMSCL reading room (103 Perkins) during open hours to view these gorgeous prints.

Thanks to Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, for helping with this post. Check out Beth’s own post on the Audubons over at Preservation Underground.

“Abusing Power: Satirical Journals from the Special Collections Library”

Date: 22 February-11 April 2010
Location and Time: Perkins Library Gallery during library hours
Contact Information: Meg Brown, meg.brown(at)duke.edu

"Pobre España" by Anonymous. From La Flaca, 12 September 1872.

The RBMSCL’s outstanding collection of over 60 satirical magazines from Europe and North and South America offers a panoramic view of international journalistic caricature from its origins in the 1830s to the present day. This exhibit, which gathers vivid examples from these periodicals and places them in their historical context, surveys the spectrum of comic journalism, examining the visual languages of graphic satire, and investigating its rhetorical power.

Curated by Neil McWilliam, Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies with the assistance of students in his “From Caricature to Comic Strip” course, the exhibit coincides with “Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature,” an exhibition of contemporary and historical graphic satire at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.

To see images from the exhibit, and to learn more about the RBMSCL’s collection of satirical journals, visit the exhibit’s online guide.

A Glorious Revolution

Early in Gloriana; or The Revolution of 1900, a rare 1890 novel recently acquired by the RBMSCL, the heroine, twelve-year-old Gloria de Lara, stands on the seashore, plotting:

“I was imagining the foam flakelets to be girls . . . and I looked upon them as my audience. I told them . . . of all the wrongs that girls and women have to suffer, and then I bade them rise as one to right these wrongs. I told them all I could think of to show them how to do so, and then I told them that I would be their leader, and lead them to victory or die. And the wavelets shouted. . . . I seemed to hear them cheer me on, I seemed to see them rising into storm, the wind uprose them, and their white foam rushed towards me, and I seemed to see in this sudden change the elements of a great revolution.”

Years later, posing as a man named Hector l’Estrange, Gloria wins a seat in Britain’s Parliament . . . and you’ll just have to visit the RBMSCL and read the book to find out the rest.

Lady Florence Dixie
Lady Florence Dixie. From the Illustrated London News, March 1883.


The novel’s author, Lady Florence Dixie, was a prominent travel writer and advocate for women’s rights. At her death in 1905, British women were denied the right to vote. 92 years ago today, the Representation of the People Act, which granted voting rights to women over 30, received Royal Assent.

The book joins the Glenn Negley Collection of Utopian Literature as an especially interesting example of feminist utopian writing.

“I Take Up My Pen: 19th Century British Women Writers”

Date: 15 December 2009-21 February 2010
Location and Time: Perkins Library Gallery during library hours
Contact Information: Meg Brown, meg.brown(at)duke.edu

An Amusing Story by T. Conti
“An Amusing Story” by T. Conti. From the Illustrated London News, 1 April, 1893

Tumultuous, changeable 19th century Britain was the era of the professional woman writer. Amid emerging controversies over women’s suffrage and a woman’s rights over her property, her children, and her own body, women demanded a place alongside men in the world of letters to contribute to cultural discourse, to make their opinions heard, and to tell their own stories.

“I Take Up My Pen: 19th Century British Women Writers” focuses on women’s use of writing as a powerful tool to alter their positions within a social order that traditionally confined them to the home. The women represented here—including Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the Brontë sisters—are lecturers, suffragists, publishers, world travelers, professional writers, poets, journalists, and labor reformers. The exhibit also highlights the fascinating array of literary publications available to 19th century readers and writers: everything from periodicals and the penny press to three-volume bound editions, gift books, pamphlets, letters, and diaries.

Curator Angela DiVeglia arranges exhibit materials
Curator Angela DiVeglia arranges exhibit materials

An online guide to the exhibit offers links to the digitized full-text versions of many rare 19th century works in the RBMSCL’s collections.

“I Take Up My Pen: 19th Century British Women Writers” is presented by the Duke University Libraries and curated by Sara Seten Berghausen, Angela DiVeglia, Anna Gibson, and William Hansen with co-sponsorship from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.

For more pictures of the curators installing this exhibit, visit the Duke University Libraries on Flickr!

In the Lab: The Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

We’re going to be teaming up with our friends in the Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab here at the Duke University Libraries for a regular series of posts on RBMSCL materials in the lab for conservation treatment. We’ll start with a look at the Dutch-language edition of the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.

A Little History

This six-volume world atlas was created and published between 1648 and 1655 by Willem Janszoon Blaeu and his son, Joan Blaeu, two of the finest map makers of the 17th century.

Dutch cartographer and publisher Willem Blaeu (1571-1638) studied astronomy and cartography under the well-known astronomer and alchemist Tycho Brahe. In 1633, he was appointed the official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. Joan Blaeu (1596-1673), himself an accomplished cartographer, took over the press after his father’s death in 1638. Under his supervision, they became the largest publisher of their kind in 17th century Europe.

These folio volumes are full of engraved maps and vignettes that were hand-colored with a strikingly vibrant palette. They are bound in gold-tooled stiff-board vellum bindings.

Conservation Work

The atlases arrived in the lab in fairly good condition considering their age. Still, due to their size, it will take Erin Hammeke, Special Collections Conservator, many hours to complete the necessary repairs.

The texts and maps are printed on a good quality rag paper that is still quite strong. There are minor paper tears, badly folded maps, and some insect holes in all of the volumes which make safe handling difficult. The vellum bindings also exhibit small tears that need to be mended.

Each atlas requires surface cleaning to remove dirt and debris from the covers and individual pages. Erin will use soft brushes, special erasers, and a museum vacuum, all of which are designed to remove debris while reducing potential damage to the paper’s surface. Wheat starch paste and strong but thin Japanese and Korean tissues are used for the paper repairs. When the conservation is complete, Erin will construct a custom fitted enclosure for each volume.

Post contributed by Beth Doyle, Collections Conservator, and Erin Hammeke, Conservator for Special Collections

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An Artist Responds to Hurricane Katrina

The artistic response to societal tragedy is always a difficult balance: how can art contribute to understanding and interpreting, without aestheticizing suffering? In the past decade, films, novels, and other creative approaches to events such as the Holocaust, 9/11, and the conflict in Darfur have provoked controversy and debate about art’s place in the discussion of international politics and personal suffering.

Shortly after the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landing on the Gulf Coast, the RBMSCL acquired a unique artist’s book, Katrina by Beth Thielen, made in 2007. An opening supported by waves of paper reveals tiny human figures trapped in a whirlpool, begging for help. The text asks, “How do we make a just society when there is an underlying contempt for helplessness?”


In correspondence with this post’s author, the artist explained: “I made the work because the moment was such a clear and rare reveal of the darker undercurrents of our country…. During Katrina we all watched the images of people with outstretched arms pleading towards the sky. Is there any image more archetypal of helplessness? It is a crying baby’s pose. Reproachful disdain to helplessness… is as primitive as a school yard bully calling someone a crybaby after taking their candy.” She continues, “To feel with is to feel for. A civilized response.”

Thielen’s work joins another artist’s book in the RBMSCL’s collections, Habitat by Jessica Peterson, which explores Katrina’s destruction of Biloxi, Mississippi. Both works add to our collections of Southern Americana and artists’ books by women. Nearly 300 more works of fiction, films, essays, and scholarly works on Hurricane Katrina can also be found in the Duke Libraries’ online catalog (see these catalog records here).

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections